CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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The Right Word

Yesterday — October 23, 2016 (permalink)

It's nice when authors give some advance notice of a red herring.  In this case, though, the red herring is not a misleading clue but an actual fish.  From Snarleyyow Or the Dog Fiend by Frederick Marryat, 1837.

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October 22, 2016 (permalink)

"'Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.' —Young.  From A Practical Grammar by Stephen Watkins Clark, 1847.
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October 6, 2016 (permalink)

"Veni—vidi—skedaddleali."  By Harry Bullock-Webster, ca. 1875.  Scanned by the University of British Columbia Library.
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September 23, 2016 (permalink)

Here's some maledicta from Hearst's Magazine, 1913.  How many can you decode?  We've translated them as follows:
The circle overlapping an asterisk, followed by three exclamation points, means "asshole."
The D with a period means "damn."
The lopsided M with its four strokes means the four-syllable "motherfucker."
The lopsided H with its long cross stroke is a very cross "Hell."
But what about the I and question mark?  We couldn't find a single list of swear words that included any beginning with I.  Yet the letter I is in itself a swear word.  "'I' is a curse: 'I' is the labeled 'I' of oppression and condemnation.  'I' feels itself superior to other 'I's" (Lily Splane, "Elegy for the 'I,'" Quantum Consciousness).
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As Selwyn Eagle has said, "Sometimes the most unlikely sources can be the most useful."  Also, we recall that "In a sense 'English' is a bit of a fiction.  There is no one English, no one monolithic entity with a fixed, unchanging set of linguistic features.  Rather, the label 'the English language' is a convenient shorthand for what is a remarkable assortment of different varieties" (Borjars & Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2013).

Correctly English in Hundred Days.
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September 20, 2016 (permalink)

Here's the Bhutan word for "entering the mouth of one's own accord," just as these two are voluntarily stepping into a giant mouth at The Enchanted Forest in Oregon.
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"The letter that I didn't write is here," altho' it's only a wish.  From 1911. 
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September 16, 2016 (permalink)

Here's the only instance of "jiggswiggered" we have found in print, from "The Sinfulness of Skippy" by Owen Johnson, in Hearst's International, 1922.
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September 12, 2016 (permalink)

Here are the results of 1902's mixed metaphor contest, in Black and White Budget.
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September 8, 2016 (permalink)

"The Tourist's Book of Welsh Place-Names."  Date indecipherable.
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September 6, 2016 (permalink)

For what this means, see (or course) our very own One-Letter Words: A Dictionary (and though the hardcover is out of print, the e-version remains "out there").  Our illustration is from The Galaxy magazine, 1866.
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September 4, 2016 (permalink)

"Saturated void" is a geotechnical term, but Tim Flohr Sørensen uses it to describe a cemetery:
It may appear rather straightforward to connect cemeteries with the notion of absence.  After all, a cemetery is most often seen as a place for the dead, who are frequently conceived as absent, gone, missing or lost.  The state of being — or non-being — of the dead is otherwise poorly defined, and may simply be considered a form of "no moreness."  At the same time, the cemetery can be said to contain the absent, because it is ordinarily a place where prolonged spatial and material relations to the deceased are allowed to exist as opposed to e.g. a mass grave, where the dead are meant to disappear. ... [Cemeteries are] places of highly complex incorporations of presences and absences.  ...  [A]bsence is articulated and perceived as an emotional rupture but also as concrete and material voids.  Likewise, presence is articulated both as the physical being-there and the feeling of nearness and immediacy in the midst of the fragmentation posed by the death of a relative.  ("A Saturated Void: Anticipating and Preparing Presence in Contemporary Danish Cemetery Culture," An Anthropology of Absence)
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August 26, 2016 (permalink)

Did nobody tell the LSAT writers, who "always use the literal (or dictionary) meaning of a word," that the word set alone famously has over 460 definitions?
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August 15, 2016 (permalink)

A whole constellation of asterisks from "The Land of the Whopper" by Elizabeth Frazer, in The Saturday Evening Post, 1920.
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August 12, 2016 (permalink)

"Eggspatiation," circa 1890.
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August 11, 2016 (permalink)

You've heard of being "safe as houses," but here's someone "sane as a house," which is a Googlewhack.  From "My Wife's Wedding Presents" by Owen Johnson, in Pearson's, 1910.
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August 9, 2016 (permalink)

The phrase "blink blank haberdasher" is a Googlewhack.  From Pearson's, 1908.
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August 8, 2016 (permalink)

They just don't write metaphors this way anymore: "Metaphorically, Hubbard sat up and took notice."  From Pearson's, 1904.
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August 7, 2016 (permalink)

Referencing the Double Dutch Dictionary, from Judy, Or The London Serio-Comic Journal, 1880.
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Here's just a sampling of all 264 blank pages that Flickr displays for the book Atlas Ichthyologique des Indes Orientales Néêrlandaises, 1862.  Perversely, not a single one of the beautiful color illustrations from the book was scanned.  To be clear, blank pages (most all of which are labeled as such, technically rendering them non-blank in the process) are the only pages from this book that the Internet Archive uploaded to Flickr.  We're merely trying to find some inadvertent visual poetry in the void.
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